Category Archives: Book Reviews

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #01

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 01 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

At the very edge of the front lines stands a young girl. She has golden hair, blue eyes, and pale, almost translucent skin. This girl soars through the skies, mercilessly cutting down her enemies. She barks crisp orders with the unmistakable voice of a child. Her name is Tanya Degruechaff.

But her true identity is that of a 40-year-old Japanese elite salary-man who was forced by god to be reborn in the vessel of a little girl who must live in a tumultuous world racked by war. Concerned with being ultra-efficient and desiring self-promotion above all else, Degurechaff will join the ranks of the Imperial Army’s Military Mages and become one of the most feared existences in this new world…

The Review

The Saga of Tanya the Evil is categorized as a light novel, but it actually makes pretty heavy reading. Anyone who’s familiar with the anime or manga knows the story has a complicated set-up. On top of that complex plot, the novel delves deep into the sci-fi and military aspects, which means readers won’t be breezing through this one.

Our main character is a highly intellectual human resources manager from our modern Japan. However, we meet him just as he suffers an untimely death at the hands of a freshly terminated employee. Upon his demise, he comes face to face with God, who, frustrated by the faithlessness of our main character and humanity as a whole, decides to inspire faith by reincarnating the man—memories intact—as a female in a parallel version of World War I Germany.

The novel’s opening is somewhat difficult to follow. It introduces our main character as his consciousness is transitioning into his reincarnated form Tanya, and then it delves into an overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment before transitioning into social commentary. If I wasn’t already familiar with the Tanya anime and manga, I’m certain I’d have gotten utterly confused.

Compounding the problem of conveying the main character’s complicated circumstances is the writing itself. Dialogue is annoyingly short on tags, so I was often guessing at who said what. Combat scenes rely heavily on dialogue to paint the action, but unless you’re well versed in military jargon, you may have trouble understanding what’s happening. Verb tense constantly shifts between past and present, sometimes within the same scene. There are a lot of POV shifts, which can be disorienting, and our main character simultaneously uses “I” and “Tanya”/ “she” to refer to self. I’m not sure how much of these issues stem from the original Japanese manuscript and how much from the translation process. Either way, it makes for a difficult English text.

However, things are much less problematic if you’re acquainted with the anime or manga and understand from the start that Tanya is a modern salaryman trapped in a child’s body whose ultimate aim is a safe, cushy job. In that case, the value provided by the novel is detailed explanations of key points of the story. For instance, all the Tanya works portray the Type 95 computation orb as an impractical contraption that only works with divine intervention. However, the novel describes at length the scientific/magical theory behind computation orbs, why the Type 95 is both revolutionary and unstable, and its functional value to a mage. Regarding the military aspect, the novel includes maps and diagrams of the unfolding war. We also get a prolonged look at the war room conferences that decide army movements and the discussions among higher-ups that determine Tanya’s military career path. Unlike the manga and anime, there’s less comedy derived by juxtaposing Tanya’s conniving thoughts against those of the people she’s trying to manipulate; what we get instead is a better picture of the personalities within the cast.

One of those personalities is Major von Lergen, seeming the only person in the Imperial Army to question Tanya’s suitability as a soldier (and a human being). At every step of her career, he raises objections, and the novel spells out the reasons he’s so concerned about her rise in the ranks.  I’d hoped for a better rationale from this supposed unbiased Personnel Officer than his gut feeling, and his main criticism of Tanya (the way she objectifies people as resources) is rather hypocritical. After all, the Imperial Army does that all the time as evidenced by the way Tanya gets shoved into her first combat situation at age nine. However, double-standards are certainly common among humans, and the novel seems to be setting von Lergen as an eternal obstacle to Tanya’s goals.

Another aspect detailed in the novel is the impact of the Type 95 computation orb on Tanya’s psyche. As in the anime and manga, it forces her to utter praise to God when in use. However, there’s more to it than just embarrassing instances of worship. In the novel, its side effects include memory lapses and a sense of brainwashing, which makes Tanya doubly resentful of the divine.

Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

For a light novel, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a pretty hefty book. If you have no familiarity with the Tanya the Evil anime or manga, there’s a high chance you’ll get confused if you read the novel first. However, if you’re already a fan of the series and want to understand more about that world’s geopolitics or mage technology, this book will provide you with an abundance of background information as well as a range of character viewpoints.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

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Light Novel Review: your name.: Another Side – Earthbound

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now for those who can’t get enough of the your name. universe, Yen On presents your name.: Another Side: Earthbound novel.

Back Cover Blurb

This hardcover edition tells the story of the hit novel your name. from the perspective of Mitsuha’s friends and family as they deal with her strange new quirks–and avoid disaster. Featuring side characters Tak, Tessie, Yotsuha, and Toshiki, Mitsuha’s father.

Mitsuha is a young girl living in a rural town named Itomori and is fed up with her life. One day, her family and friends notice she’s suddenly acting strange. Little do they know, a high school boy from Tokyo named Taki Tachibana found himself randomly switching places with her when he fell asleep. But he has no clue how to act as a high school girl in an unfamiliar place!

The Review

your name.: Another Side: Earthbound is not so much a novel as it is a collection of four stories, each from the POV of a different resident of Mitsuha’s hometown Itomori. Earthbound reads very much like fanfiction in that it expands upon details glossed over in the original works and offers alternate perspectives of the story’s events.

Earthbound begins with “Thoughts on Brassieres.” Those who loved the hilarity of Mitsuha and Taki switching bodies will get more of the same with this story, which delves into Taki’s struggle to live as a girl. As you might guess from the title, it’s got a LOT about boobs and bras throughout and, yes, more self-groping from Taki. It also expands upon the movie’s glimpses of Taki (as Mitsuha) playing basketball and confronting classmates talking smack about Mitsuha. In addition to the body-swap comedy, the story also includes Taki’s growing fondness for Itomori and his reflections on the girl whose body he inhabits but whom he’s never actually met.

Next is “Scrap and Build,” where we get the perspective of supporting cast member Tesshi. The movie presents him as Mitsuha’s friend, but this story makes clear that he’s more than a childhood buddy. He, like Mitsuha, has certain responsibilities because of his family’s standing in Itomori, which means he understands her position better than most. So while there’s the comedy of him baffled by Mitsuha’s periodic “fox possession” behavior, he also shows how the pressures within Itomori can lead to a real love-hate relationship with the tiny community. In addition, we learn about the influences that enabled him to help Taki (as Mitsuha) evacuate the townsfolk the day of the disaster.

After that is “Earthbound,” which follows Mitsuha’s little sister Yotsuha. She provides observations of the body swaps from the perspective of a family member and a grade schooler. For some reason, breasts feature largely in this story, which strikes me as odd. It’s one thing for Taki, a teenage boy, to be obsessed and baffled by them, but it feels like a tired old joke when Yotsuha also goes on about them. However, a unique thing in Yotsuha’s narrative is her perspective on Miyamizu Shrine. As a shrine maiden, she shares her sister’s intimacy with its traditions, and that intimacy allows for a surprise encounter with a long forgotten past.

Finally, we have “What You Joined Together,” which dives into the memories of Mitsuha’s father Toshiki. Included in the initial part of the story is a conversation between Toshiki and his future wife Futaba about the purpose and meaning of the Miyamizu rituals. Unless you’re acquainted with Shinto folklore or academic analysis, this dialogue —although it does point to the coming comet strike—is a slog. Fortunately, after this first meeting, the narrative simplifies to that of a man falling in love. For those curious about the Miyamizu family, it provides an extensive look at Mitsuha’s mother, who receives only brief mention in the original works, and the circumstances that estranged Toshiki from his daughters.

By the way, regarding the translation, it flows satisfactorily for the most part. However, there are parts where the formatting (specifically punctuation and italicizing) gets awkward, and a couple sentences seem to be missing a word. In addition, the Itomori residents speak in dialect, but for some reason, Futaba speaks normally for her initial academic conversation with Toshiki and then drops into dialect for the remainder of the story.

Extras include fold-out color illustration, character sketches, and nine black-and-white illustrations.

In summary

This book was written expressly for fans of your name. so if you haven’t seen the movie or read the light novel, do that first. Then if you’re hungry for more details about the town of Itomori, Mitsuha’s family, and the traditions of the Miyamizu Shrine or if you just want to revisit the your name. characters, pick up Another Side: Earthbound. There are bits that do get tiresome, but overall, it balances comedy and drama as well as the original.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 006

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 6 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The war between elves rages on, with Kirito and Asuna caught in the middle! The forest elves seek the dark elves’ Secret Key, but to what end? Though Kirito tries to stay detached, Asuna can’t help being swept along for the ride. Kizmel is supposed to be just an NPC, right? But then why does she seem so very human?

The Review

Now that Kirito and Asuna have had their chance to introduce the third floor and interact with the NPCs of the Elf War quest, the other humans return to the stage. Here, the narrative gets complicated. As Kirito explained in the previous volume, players experience the Elf Quest differently depending on their choices, but they still share the same space. Thus, Kirito and Asuna see the reappearance of the forest elf they killed when Lind’s group triggers the quest.

In addition to multiple versions of the quest running simultaneously, we get a glimpse of Heathcliff and other nefarious elements that have nothing to do with the SAO programmed monsters. Also, the first official guilds form, bringing along the beginnings of rivalries. While there is still the urgency to escape SAO, it feels less like a “death game” with players trash-talking each other and getting jealous of Kirito’s partnership with Asuna. One really interesting scene is when the guilds express their desire to recruit Kirito (after all, who wouldn’t want him on their team?). Indeed, Kirito is popular enough to form his own group but chooses to remain solo. This is a significant departure from the anime where Kirito was ostracized and hid his beater status, and in my opinion, Progressive’s version makes much more sense.

However, this volume does have its nonsensical points, usually when it’s trying to lighten the mood. As in previous volume, much is made of Asuna’s smarts, and she even berates Kirito at one point for being dense. However, when they reach the third floor’s main town, she completely forgets the social implications of sharing a room with a guy and blithely checks the two of them into an inn in front of everyone. As for Kirito, there’s fanservice aplenty when he confides a secret plan to Kizmel—while they’re naked in the bathhouse.

Extras include a special bonus manga and illustrations.

In Summary

There’s a lot to keep track of in this volume between the differing versions of the multi-stage Elf Quest and friction between the newly formed guilds. While there’s no boss battle, the simultaneous quest storylines lead to a different kind of clash. The setup for it, however, is complicated because of the various elements being manipulated, and understanding it requires an attentive read.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #01

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 01 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

When the average Japanese salaryman is suddenly thrown into in a world wracked with warfare and hardship by a supernatural power, they might first think to hide or run away. But not Tanya Degurechaff. A calculating and utilitarian man has been reborn as a child soldier. This young girl will do anything to rise in rank and find a way to live a life of comfort, and woe to any king, country, or god who stands in her way.

The Review

Tanya the Evil is difficult to categorize. It’s got magic, World War I style wargames, and politics as well as reincarnation, dark humor, and a kind of existential brawl with divine elements. That sounds like a real mishmash, but amazingly, it works to create a compelling story.

The setting is an alternate World War I Germany, but the main character actually originates from our modern Japan. He’s a highly intelligent, ultra-rational salaryman who knows how to work the system to get what he wants. Unfortunately, he fails to account for the irrationality of emotion, which results in an untimely death. However, despite meeting God upon his demise, he refuses to acknowledge Him as such. So the Creator decides to instill faith in the faithless man by reincarnating him—memories intact—as a female in a war-torn world where everything he’s relied on doesn’t exist.

As such, this first volume of Tanya winds up being a dense read. For those familiar with the anime, the manga provides more details on the strife brewing between the Empire and its neighbors, as well as the rationale for Tanya’s various military assignments. Because Tanya retains her Japanese salaryman memories, she often makes comparisons between her situations and similar examples from our world. For those unversed in world history, explanations of her references are inserted into the narrative, which is very handy for clarification but does slow down the pace.

Interweaving in the midst of the complex setting are two storylines. The first is Tanya’s refusal to acknowledge God—or Being X, as she calls Him. Unlike the anime, where God creepily communicates to Tanya by possessing others, this representation is the Michaelangelo type, albeit one characterized by the worst stereotypes of the Creator. Also, God doesn’t act alone; in this version, there’s a consortium of divine beings at work to change the faithlessness of mankind.

The second storyline is Tanya’s efforts to survive in her new world and attain her goal: a cushy desk job far from the front lines. Considering she’s essentially a conniving adult in a child’s body, she’s got a significant advantage, especially when it comes to combat and military strategy. However, just as when she was a salaryman, she often misreads emotions, and much of the humor comes from the contrast between Tanya’s thoughts and those of the people she’s trying to manipulate.

Regarding illustrations, Tojo-sensei skillfully uses a range of styles to convey the narrative. Crisp maps and diagrams convey a broad view of the military theater. Political interactions between nations are depicted using cartoonish animal mascots. Combat scenes are gory, and Tanya’s crazed looks certainly convey the insanity and desperation of war. However, her frustrated expressions when her efforts to attain a cushy job get stymied are quite funny.

Extras include first four pages in color.

In Summary

If you like simple stories, Tanya the Evil is probably not the best choice. The main character has a complicated backstory, and the World War I-esque setting involves military strategy and politics. However, if you enjoy multifaceted stories and defiant personalities and you can tolerate some graphic violence, Tanya is worth a look.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 7

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 7. (For the reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife, but popular TV newscaster Ryu Nanami would rather die than ever get married. Asuka and Ryu just moved in together, but at work Ryu is being considered for a transfer to Washington, D.C. Will Ryu accept the offer?

The Review

Ryu and Asuka’s new living situation has Kamiya practically on their doorstep, which might lead to anticipation of fiercer competition between the two rivals. However, the plot takes a different turn. Instead of facing off against Kamiya, Ryu leaves the fight when a promotion sends him to America.

The assignment is supposedly for several years. Asuka immediately offers to quit her job to go with him, and indeed it seems the obvious thing to do considering her dream is to be a full-time homemaker. However, even though Ryu tells her “being with you is my life now,” he insists that she stay in Japan. And Asuka… acquiesces without argument.

Thus we have three chapters of Ryu and Asuka making the most of the time that they have left before Ryu moves. Asuka shoves aside doubt to offer absolute support for Ryu’s decision, which is somewhat unbelievable. Her relationship with Ryu is getting further and further from the marriage she dreams of. She’s already in her mid-20s, and her previous relationship lasted five years and ultimately went nowhere. With a separation of several years looming, it seems improbable that she wouldn’t consider the consequences if she invests all that time into Ryu and things do not work out.

As for Ryu, he’s not so dense to think that Asuka doesn’t need assurance, but the way he goes about it falls flat. The nuances of Japanese engagements went over my head when Ryu takes Asuka to his parents’ home, but when he offhandedly says, “It should be fine if it’s just in spirit,” it sounds like he’s just tossing Asuka a bone. Add to that the cocky way he informs Kamiya about the transfer and declares,” I won’t make her cry,” and I’m really thinking Asuka should dump him.

Thus, career demands once more separate our couple. But not only is Ryu physically away, Asuka’s work promotion causes her to seek advice from Kamiya. Then little brother Kaneda comes over for winter break and starts voicing his disapproval at the situation. Everything’s getting set up for Kamiya to make a grab for Asuka, and unless Ryu drastically changes his time, I’m rooting for Team Kamiya.

Extras include author’s afterword.

In Summary

Work once again separates Ryu and Asuka, this time in the form of a long term assignment in Washington DC. The obvious solution is for Asuka to go with Ryu, but he vetoes that option in favor of a long-distance relationship neither wants. We have the usual date/bedroom moments to illustrate how badly they want to stay together, but Ryu’s minimal concessions to assure Asuka of his commitment paint him as a selfish jerk.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #14

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has  a unique bent to it. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released Volume 14 of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Previously, Lawrence and Holo traveled to the town of Svernel in order to meet with the Myuri Mercenary Company and find out more about Holo’s past companions and her home. But now Lawrence has gotten completely caught up in the political strife of the Debau Trading Company.

It all surrounds the Debau Company’s desire to issue a new currency, with which they have apparent plans to unite the surrounding northern region. For their aim, the Debau Company needs to acquire raw ore and materials but this has caused their opponents to increase their own efforts to foil this plan. In the middle of all this, Lawrence is trusted with delivering a forbidden text detailing the necessary mining techniques to the trading company’s executive, Hilde Schnau but will it really go so smoothly?

The Review

At the end of Volume 13, merchant and wolf looked bound for a happy ending, and as Volume 14 opens, that tidy conclusion seems a done deal when Lawrence figures out the motivation behind the Debau Company’s actions. The company’s plans to create an empire in the Northlands through the power of trade are far and beyond anything a small-time merchant like Lawrence imagined possible. However, he recognizes the opportunity approaching and positions himself to have the store of his dreams and live happily ever after with Holo.

But just when everything seems perfect, a new character arrives to throw Lawrence’s plans into disarray. Hilde Schnau, the Treasurer of the Debau Company, makes his first appearance, but just as Lawrence and Holo have been observing the Debau Company’s activities, Hilde has been observing theirs. And he knows more about them than most because he is a being similar to Holo. Similar… but not alike. Watching Hilde interact with Holo and Lawrence keeps bringing to mind a certain scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Because despite his cute appearance, he wields considerable power.

While it is a bit strange to watch a rabbit manipulate a wolf to do his bidding, it effectively drags the two travelers into an internal battle within the Debau Company. Thus the story zooms out from Holo and Lawrence’s intimate plans to the factions struggling within an economic giant. As it turns out, the forbidden book of mining techniques is key, but not in the way Holo and Lawrence thought. Once more, our heroes get swept into an affair much larger than themselves, and Holo especially must consider the future ramifications of the choices before her. And while mercenaries take arms and Holo makes use of her true form, Hilde does a wonderful job showing how well-placed words and pieces of paper can shape the outcome of a regional conflict.

Extras include title illustration in color and afterword.

In Summary

Just when the series looks about to conclude happily for Lawrence and Holo, a new character appears to throw everything into chaos. Wolf and merchant once more wind up entangled in a scheme—one that not only involves trade but armies of mercenaries and the fate of the entire Northlands. While the plots and counterplots within the Debau Company are a bit complicated, the interplay of economics, military, and supernatural might makes for a gripping narrative.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #13

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has  a unique bent to it. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released Volume 13 of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Lawrence and Holo continue to head for the Wise Wolf’s homeland of Yoitsu. Even their long, long journey begins to approach its end. On their way, they hear of a mercenary band that carries the name of Holo’s old friend, Myuri. As they investigate the group’s whereabouts in Lesko, they’re astonished by the town’s prosperity they find. But what could be the secret hidden beneath the veneer of success?

The Review

Two major themes have followed our merchant and wisewolf throughout their journey together. One is Holo’s desire to return home. The other is Lawrence’s ambition to succeed in business that he might open his own shop. In this volume, our travelers realize only one of these wishes will be fulfilled, with interesting results.

Having heard of a mercenary company bearing the name of Holo’s packmate Myuri, Holo and Lawrence travel to the Northlands town of Lesko. What they find is not her old companion but a young mercenary leader and a message passed down his family for generations. It’s a major turning point for Holo when she realizes she can never return to the world she once knew, and the creators do a terrific job of portraying her grief and the astonishment of the mercenary captain, who never thought anyone would actually show up to receive Myuri’s message.

Holo rarely displays such emotion and vulnerability, and Lawrence does his best to give her a shoulder to cry on. However, in his efforts to cheer her up, he quickly gets distracted by how unusual Lesko is. They came to the place expecting a city on the brink of war, but the mood of Lesko is relaxed and peaceful, and the Myuri mercenaries assure Lawrence that there’s no chance of conflict. In addition, Lesko, unlike the other cities they’ve traveled through, has no walls, no guilds, and no tariffs. So when Lawrence sees a certain piece of property for sale, Lesko looks like the perfect place to set up shop. There just one troublesome thing: the Debau Company, which controls the town, is offering an outrageous exchange rate for gold coin, and until Lawrence can figure out what they’re up to, he doesn’t dare make a move.

Thus, we have the economics arc to the story. But interspersed with Lawrence’s efforts to unravel the company’s machinations are deeply personal, intimate moments as he imagines the business he’s dreamed of with the person he longs to share it with. For those who’ve been hankering for more sweetness in Spice and Wolf, you’ll get it as Holo lets go of the past and sets her sights on the future Lawrence holds out to her.

Extras include the title illustration in color and afterword.

In Summary

As the cover illustration insinuates, the bond of affection is growing between wisewolf and merchant. Holo’s mood has generally alternated between amused and annoyed, but in this installment, she goes through the emotional wringer in a way we haven’t seen before. At the same time, Lawrence discovers in Lesko the chance to realize a long-cherished dream. But instead of these experiences pulling them apart, the pair winds up closer, and amid a mystery of gathering mercenaries and cheap gold, romance blooms between merchant and wisewolf.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 5

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 5. (For my reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Prince Licht’s fascination with coffee should come as no surprise given his affinity for his part-time job at the cafe, but when Leonhard suggests the bitter drink should be banned from the kingdom, can Lichie help him develop an appreciation?

The Review

After Bruno’s internal angst regarding his chances for the throne, Akai-sensei opens Volume 5 with lighter fare, a coffee-themed interlude between Heine, Licht, and Leonhard. Leonhard, as usual, plays the part of the immature prince, but this time his childish tastes pose a challenge for Licht, not Heine. Their confrontation has the feel of a comedy duo, and with Heine mostly observing rather than getting directly involved, it’s a nice change of pace from Heine’s usual schooling.

Comedy also comes in the cute variety in the standalone chapter “Adele’s Friend.” The little princess returns to demand a visit to the zoo, and of course, her brothers (plus Heine) accompany her. It has a very similar feel to the group art class of Volume 4, except this time the unique points of the princes’ personalities get highlighted in the context of animals, which range from cute to ferocious to troublesome.

The rest of the volume is devoted to a past incident involving Bruno and Kai with the focus mainly on Kai. While the story has a 19th-century setting, our characters often display modern sensitivities, and the princes’ normal garb look a lot like Japanese school uniforms. In keeping with this bridging of past and present, Akai-sensei delivers a situation at a military academy that looks a lot like modern high school bullying. Because this arc centers on Kai, much is made about the contrast between his scary looks and his actual gentle nature, but on top of that, we get to see the circumstances that actually would push Kai to violence.

Unfortunately, Heine gets turned into a deus ex machina for the arc’s resolution. While the conclusion is a bit too tidy for belief, it does increase the aura of mystery surrounding the diminutive tutor. It also drives Count Rosenberg, the steward of the eldest prince, to confront Heine, and I anticipate an increasing amount of court intrigue to come.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover; six-page bonus story; and first page printed in color.

In Summary

Kai fans will have a lot to enjoy in this installment. Not only do we get a glimpse into his brief stint in a military academy, we also see how Heine’s influence has shaped him and Kai’s particular take on conflict resolution. And though the eldest prince has yet to show his face, his meddling in his brothers’ affairs is becoming increasingly apparent, and I look forward to him finally making an appearance.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 4

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 4. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Heine’s efforts to shape the princelings into worthy successors to the throne continue, but it seems that Bruno in particular is struggling with a bit of a crisis of conscience when it comes to his future. Can he live up to Heine’s standards to remain his “apprentice”? More importantly, does he have the courage to carve out his own path?

The Review

As with Volume 3, half the material in Volume 4 was not incorporated into the TV series. Most of the non-animated chapters are at the beginning of the book and comprise, for the most part, humorous fluff that poke fun at the princes’ quirks. The volume opens with a group art lesson in which the princes must paint a portrait of little sister Adele. What results is a cute, light-hearted chapter that displays our cast’s idiosyncrasies on canvas.

The remainder of the book has Heine dealing with the princes in ones and twos as it often does. Chapter 20 “A Troubled Prince!?” is a brief Leonhard-centric arc which, like most chapters about the fourth prince, is a display of his dismal academics. Unfortunately, this iteration doesn’t vary much from previous ones so I found the gags stale. However, the next chapter, which features Licht, is much more intriguing. Cafe fans will get to enjoy the youngest prince in his waiter uniform while he attempts to pry into Heine’s private life.

As we enter the material included in the anime, the narrative takes a more serious tone. Heine’s job is to groom the princes as worthy candidates for the throne, but we’ve never seen the brothers treat each other as rivals. This changes with Chapter 22. Although the set up is somewhat different than the TV series, it similarly introduces Bruno’s hidden insecurities and sets the stage well for the two Bruno-centric chapters that follow. Thus far, Bruno has alternated between a rigid academic and a gushing Heine fanboy. In this arc, we see the circumstances that led to his strict lifestyle as well as a glimpse of his sense of self-worth. Of all the princes, Bruno is the one most firmly grounded in reality, and to watch him agonize over the options for his future goes a long way in fleshing out his character.

Extras include “Character Profiles” printed on the inside of the cover; one page “intermission” manga; first page printed in color; and translation notes.

In Summary

Volume 4 delivers a nice balance of comedy and drama. We first get three fun standalone chapters that feature the brothers’ affection toward their cute sister, Leonhard’s stupidity, and Licht’s acute sense of perception. The focus then shifts to the line of succession, and more specifically, the person Prince Bruno considers his chief rival for the throne. Not only do these chapters shape Bruno into a more well-rounded character, they also heighten the sense that someone is out to sabotage the four brothers’ chances to become king.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Novel Review: Nyxia

The success of The Hunger Games has spawned a surge of YA titles where teens get thrown in to fight each other. Now Scott Reintger adds his version Nyxia, where the battle takes place in space.

Back Cover Blurb

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

The Review

The teaser on the Nyxia dustcover is misleading. It reads: “The ultimate weapon. The ultimate prize. Winner takes all.” Actually, it would be more accurate to say: “The top eight out of ten win.”

As such, the stakes aren’t nearly as dire for Nyxia’s lead character Emmett Atwater as they were for The Hunger Games‘ Katniss. However, a number of the competitive aspects of Nyxia make it feel a whole lot like Hunger Games training sessions in space. As for the prize everyone is after? The right to go to planet Eden on behalf of Babel Communications to mine nyxia, a miracle substance that can be manipulated by thought.

Due to certain circumstances, the Adamites, Eden’s native humanoids, have forbidden adult Earthlings from visiting the planet. Babel works around this rule by handpicking ten teens to retrieve the nyxia for them. Because Babel has more power and resources than most countries, the compensation they offer is staggering, and for Emmett, this is his chance to get his mom the kidney transplant she needs.

There is, however, a catch. En route to Eden, a range of training sessions and competitions take place in their spacecraft. The recruits’ efforts are ranked, and only the top eight get to go to Eden. As such, even though the setting is space, there’s precious little about the space travel experience or the planet they are going to. It’s all about the teenagers’ rivalries and contests which mostly take place in simulation modules. As in The Hunger Games, there is a ridiculous amount of tech so the kids are able to operate massive mining equipment with minimal instruction and their boating training site might as well be an actual river. And of course, there is hand to hand combat with nifty nyxia weapons. So fans of competition narratives where ranks are constantly shifting on the scoreboard potentially have a lot to like.

The cast, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. To ensure their recruits are sufficiently motivated, Babel chose poor kids, several of whom have an additional need that only Babel can provide. However, for some reason, Babel recruited kids not just from one place but all over the Earth. As such, Nyxia has an international cast, able to communicate thanks to nyxia translator masks. Unfortunately, the international quality doesn’t ring true for me. For instance, a Brazilian girl receives a Spanish-language contract (Portuguese is Brazil’s national language). In another scene, the translator masks are unable to convey the slang meaning of “cool” to a Palestinian, but a page later, a character who only speaks Japanese makes a pun that only works in English. Honesty, it feels as if the author began with a white bread cast and later diversified it to add appeal but didn’t bother to account for the nuances of different cultural outlooks and values.

The story might have worked better if the kids were Americans with different ethnic backgrounds, but other shortfalls remain. Emmett is a poor black kid from Detroit, and the book spends a couple pages laying out how no one in his family has ever truly been free. However, in a later scene, Emmett gets psychoanalyzed after accidentally injuring another recruit in their first hand-to-hand matchup. The doctor, a white man, strongly insinuates that Emmett had no empathy for the boy he injured because “it didn’t show on his face.” As far as I’m concerned, that remark should trigger some kind of frustration or indignation over racial bias, especially since Emmett is the only black male in the competition, he had been following instructions when the accident occurred, and he actually does feel bad about hurting to other kid. But there’s nothing, not even in Emmett’s internal thoughts. Perhaps several decades into the future, racial prejudices and social injustice no longer exist, but that portrayal of the world doesn’t work when Detroit is still characterized as a place where urban African-Americans can’t break the cycle of poverty.

In Summary

Ten kids get sent on an expedition to another planet, but rather than learning about how to interact with the planet’s native humanoid population, they spend their time and effort focusing on how to beat other humans. If you like reading about competitions where points get tallied on a scoreboard, Nyxia may have appeal for you. However, the basis of the competition is farfetched, and the international cast is international in name only.

First published at The Fandom Post.